The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 15 June—Opposition day (13th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on the impact of business rates followed by a debate on the impact of the recession on rural communities. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Tuesday 16 June—A general debate on European affairs.
Wednesday 17 June—Mr. Speaker’s valedictory and tributes by the House followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Business Rate Supplements Bill.
Thursday 18 June—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on food, farming and the environment.
Friday 19 June—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 22 June will include:
Monday 22 June—The House will meet to elect a Speaker.
Tuesday 23 June—Second Reading of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 24 June—Opposition day [14th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 25 June—House Business.
Friday 26 June—Private Members’ Bills.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I also welcome the hon. Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) as her new Deputy Leader of the House, and express the appreciation of Opposition Members for the manner in which her predecessor, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is now an Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, conducted himself in that position. His grasp of detail and his approach to the House was respected and appreciated—and his mastery of Spanish, I understand, makes him well suited to his new job as Minister for Latin America. [Hon. Members: “And French.”] And French, we are told. On his moving, we thus say a friendly adios—and au revoir, too.
I want to take this opportunity to extend our gratitude to House staff for keeping this place going during the tube strike.
May we have a statement—or even a debate—on the legitimacy, remit, structure and organisation of the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills? As we have just heard in parliamentary questions, the recent reshuffle that the Prime Minister was forced into staging has to be seen as one of the most shambolic in political history, with 11 Ministers resigning from the Government in the course of seven days. Worse still, civil servants in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills returned to their desks after lunch to find that their Department had been abolished, and subsumed into the empire of “he who must now be named the First Secretary”. This new super-Department has 11 Ministers, over half of whom are non-elected peers—no doubt exactly what the Government have in mind as they discuss their latest schemes for democratic renewal. Now that Lord Mandelson is Secretary of State for almost everything—including outer space—and has become the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, is the Leader of the House still in favour of her earlier proposal that he should be able to answer questions in the House of Commons?
May we have a debate on higher education and the prospects of graduates? We must not forget that universities too have been casually added to Lord Mandelson’s portfolio. However, this is the week in which we learnt that in 2007-08 one in seven students dropped out of university, a quarter failed to finish their degrees, and almost half the students at London Metropolitan university quit their courses before the end of the year. Worse still, a report published today suggests that 40,000 students graduating this year, no doubt with heavy debts, will still be struggling to find work in six months’ time. With the scale of the mess that the Government’s have made in higher education becoming more apparent by the day, does the right hon. and learned Lady really think that this is the time to be creating further upheaval in Departments just to satisfy ministerial empire-building?
The reshuffle has also left some important pieces of legislation in complete confusion. May we have a statement on the Government’s immigration policy? Comments made by the departing Home Secretary on the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill during her appearance in the Chamber last week left Members on both sides of the House perplexed about the Government’s basic policy on immigration, and about whether they are in favour of a future cap. Given that the British National party managed to win in areas that the Labour party had deserted, where much concern was expressed about the impact of immigration on jobs, does the Leader of the House not think that there should now be a clear statement of what the Government’s policy on immigration really is?
Let me repeat a question that I asked last week, and which Opposition spokesmen pursued during Question Time today: when will we debate the Second Reading of the Postal Services Bill? May I also ask when we shall see the draft legislative programme that we would normally have seen by this time of year?
Last week the right hon. Lady asserted that a Treasury Minister had recently updated the House on the progress of the independent inquiry into Equitable Life compensation during a debate in Westminster Hall. However, the only real information that the Economic Secretary to the Treasury gave there was bad news—the fact that no actuary had yet been appointed to Sir John Chadwick’s review body. The Government have been deliberately vacillating for months, and I have to say that I think the House’s temper is beginning to fray. Will the right hon. Lady now give an absolute guarantee that Sir John will produce an interim report—for us, in the House, before the summer recess—on how Equitable Life policyholders will be compensated?
Is the Leader of the House concerned about the fact that since she has become Minister for Women and Equality, the number of women in the Cabinet has actually decreased? Although we know that she could never be dismissed as mere window-dressing—indeed, if she were, I would immediately become the window cleaner—may I take this opportunity to reiterate my support for any bid that she might yet make to become Britain’s second woman Prime Minister? I echo the comment made on The Guardian website this week:
“I'd like to see Harriet Harman as Labour’s candidate for PM at the next election. She’d be just like Margaret Thatcher—a female party leader who convinces millions to vote Tory.”
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s appreciative comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the former Deputy Leader of the House, who now has responsibility for European issues. I agree that he was a brilliant Deputy Leader—and he does not only speak Spanish; I believe that he also speaks French, German and Italian.
And probably Welsh as well.
Let me also express, on behalf of all of us, our appreciation of the House’s staff in connection with the tube strike, and say on behalf of everyone in London that we expect agreement to be reached. Londoners cannot be held to ransom and have their lives made a misery as a result of a dispute involving the tube, which is the backbone of London’s transport structures.
The hon. Gentleman commented on the new structure of the Department responsible for business; there have, of course, been departmental questions to that Department this morning. We make no apology for putting supporting business and tackling the economic crisis at the centre of Government action. That is a priority for this country and the biggest challenge for Government. We make no apology for reconfiguring the machinery of government to be focused effectively on that task.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the prospects for graduates. It is right that we see further and higher education not only as essential for individuals who want the opportunity to achieve their full potential, but as a central economic issue. The recovery has to be skills based, and include as many people as possible, which is why configuring the universities into the Department responsible for business at the centre of our economic strategy is very important. Since we came into government there has been a massive increase in the number of people able to undertake further and higher education. The most recent figures show that since 1997 there has been about a 300 per cent. increase in the number of my constituents who now are able to gain degrees; I am sure that the picture will be the same in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. That is massive progress, on which we will continue to build.
Our immigration policy remains as it ever was: firm, fair and points-based. We have all been shocked and horrified by the fact that two great regions of this country—the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside—are represented by the British National party, which has in its constitution a provision that no one who is not white can be a member. Under the Equality Bill that is passing through the House, that constitution will be made unlawful. I know that the Opposition voted against the Equality Bill, but I hope that they will now strongly support the Bill, which will prevent us from having an apartheid political party in this country.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) was being interviewed by George Alagiah on Channel 4, she said, “I was born in Egypt but I could be a member of the British National party because I am white. You were born in Britain but you would not be able to be a member of the British National party because of the colour of your skin.” All of us should agree that there is no place in this country for a political party to have an apartheid constitution, and the Equality Bill will prevent that.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) asked about the Postal Services Bill, which he noticed was not in the forthcoming business that I have announced. He knows that I announce two weeks at a time. The Bill has completed its stages through the House of Lords, and he must await the announcement of its arrival in this House.
The draft legislative programme has been delayed because this year we had elections in June, immediately prior to which there was a purdah period; previously the elections were in May. That affected the timetabling of the draft legislative programme, which will appear very soon.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life. It is the policyholders who have lost out in Equitable Life who are frustrated and want action quickly. The House will be updated, before it rises, on the progress on Sir John Chadwick’s investigations.
As far as women in politics are concerned, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his continued attention to this issue. It is important that women in politics make sure that we deliver for women in this country. Politics is not about us as politicians; it is about what we as women and men working together can do in respect of the lives of women and men in this country. That is why I hope that Members on both sides will be prepared to support extra maternity pay and leave, more flexible working for balancing work and family responsibilities, ending pay discrimination against women and having more women in the House of Commons.
On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued a written statement about the situation facing Dairy Farmers of Britain, in which he guaranteed that all parties would work together to try to minimise the impact of the closures taking place and the demise of dairy farms. The regional development agency, the banks and the local work force are working together to try to avoid the closure of a dairy in my Blaydon constituency, which could happen tonight. The one group that it is not doing its bit is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Please can we have what the Secretary of State offered: an updated statement to the House as the situation develops? Please will the Leader of the House pass that message on to DEFRA from me?
I know that this issue demands urgent attention, and the points that my hon. Friend makes are very forceful. This needs to be looked at right away, but there will, of course, be an opportunity to discuss these matters when there is a general debate on food and farming next Thursday.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) raises a very important issue for all the farmers who are members of that co-operative, and I hope that it will be debated.
First, may I join in the tributes to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)? He entertained us in the debate on the idea of a Dissolution yesterday evening, despite having been reshuffled to the Foreign Office. My only regret is that the Leader of the House was not able to join us for that debate as well. One would have thought that the Dissolution of the House was a business of the House matter—but it seems that as far as the Cabinet was concerned, it was a matter for Wales, and Wales only. In any case, the Leader of the House has survived in the Cabinet—she is one of the few Members who have done so—and we are glad about that.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) raised the issue of the machinery of government. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was created only two years ago in a great splash of publicity. I have with me a letter from the then Secretary of State, who has since been reshuffled, in which he says that the new Department gives him the opportunity
“to make a real difference to people’s lives”—
a difference that he describes as “enormous and very exciting.” He goes on to say that the Department
“will provide a strong, integrated and permanent voice across Government for effective investment in research, science and skills at all levels”.
This “exciting” and “permanent” addition lasted for only two years, however, and then disappeared in order to gratify Lord Mandelson. It cannot be right for government to be conducted in this way, without recourse to Parliament, without any parliamentary opportunity to debate the practicalities and cost-benefit analysis of such changes. I invite the Leader of the House to give the House the opportunity to discuss how government is arranged, because such changes cannot be made on a whim. There are costs involved and practical consequences, and we should have the opportunity to debate them.
I note that the only opportunity to discuss the economy next week will be provided by the Opposition. The Government, having given us an assurance every week that there will be such an opportunity, have failed to provide one. However, we need a debate very soon on the prospects for public sector spending. We know now that the Conservatives are committed to 10 per cent. cuts, but we suspect that the Government, too, are committed to cuts in public spending. Would it not be better to have an honest, open and grown-up debate about the prospects for public spending, so that we can actually see what the consequences will be for our public services?
May we also have a debate on the probation service? Cuts in this area will have a very dangerous effect on our country, and we now know that £120 million is to be cut from the probation service budget by 2012. Probation work is a difficult enough job without the reduction in manpower that will result from that cut. We all know that the probation service is essential to protecting the public, so may we have a debate about what is envisaged?
I was tempted to ask the former Deputy Leader about my final point in the course of last night’s debate, but he is at the Foreign Office now, and therefore does not know the answer, so I will ask the Leader of the House. The Prime Minister has come up with a raft of parliamentary and constitutional reforms from the “committee on public safety”, or whatever it is called, which he urges us all now to embrace. Can the Leader of the House give me a clear timetable for implementing those proposals? Unless we implement them as a matter of urgency, the public will not believe these are genuine urgent reforms; they will believe they are simply yet more spin to get the Prime Minister out of a difficult situation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, too, for his comments about the former Deputy Leader of the House, and I would like to take the opportunity to welcome warmly my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley), who is going to be an excellent successor to the previous excellent Deputy Leader of the House. On the machinery of government changes, we should all recognise that what will help the economy for the future is having a strong economy based on science, technology, research, manufacturing and higher education. So bringing those all together in a very powerful Department at the heart of central Government, which will work with all the regional development agencies, and with Scotland and Wales, is important. That is what lies behind this new machinery of government.
As for the economic debate, the hon. Gentleman drew attention to the fact that there will be two Opposition day debates on Monday, and they will touch on the economy. There will be a debate on European affairs on Tuesday, which is bound to have the economy as a central issue because the global economic crisis obviously has to be tackled at the European and international level, as well as the national level. One in 10 of the jobs in this country depend on Europe, and he can certainly be confident that for Labour Members the economic dimension will be very much to the fore in the debate that we have scheduled for Tuesday 16 June. In addition, on Wednesday 17 June there will be a debate on the Business Rate Supplements Bill, so what with the Opposition day, and debates on European affairs and on the Business Rate Supplements Bill, enough debate on the economy has been scheduled for next week. If the hon. Gentleman wants, he can suggest a further such debate by way of a topical debate—but I did not think that that was necessary.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned public spending, and he was right to say that the Conservatives have revealed that they would cut it. They have already shown that public spending will have to be cut to pay for their changes to inheritance tax, which help the wealthiest, and for their wish to pay back debt quickly at the expense of cutting public services. They have already said that they want to cut public investment this year and next—right in the middle of a recession. The Government are determined to ensure that we have public investment not only to help us through the recession, but to sustain important public services for the future. Of course we will have to pay back debt, but our choice on tax is to increase the rate for the top rate taxpayers to 50 per cent., rather than to give huge inheritance tax cuts for a few thousand millionaires.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the probation service, and he will doubtless be able to seek to put his questions directly to Justice Ministers at Justice questions next week. There has been a 70 per cent. real-terms increase in probation funding over the past 10 years—
It has all gone on computers.
May we have an early debate on the engineering and steel industry? My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) and I have asked for an urgent meeting with the First Secretary of State, because although there are some welcome signs of recovery, the lag-time for steel is considerable and orders on the books are down by half. We could be facing a serious situation—there is potential for closures—in the engineering and steel industry. That would mean that as a recovery takes hold we would be importing the steel, which until now has been made in Britain. We need some temporary bridging help, and that should be discussed fully in this House. If it is not, can the Leader of the House urge the First Secretary of State to find time, among all his other responsibilities, to meet my colleagues and me to discuss this vital issue?
I certainly will urge the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to meet my right hon. Friend and other Members of Parliament who are concerned about the issues that he has raised. Perhaps we should have a topical debate on the point he makes about the steel industry, and the effect of this situation not only on the constituency and the region that he represents, but on Teesside and the north-east. We have to ensure that we secure our manufacturing base in these difficult times. That is an issue for many Welsh Members of Parliament too, so I will take what he says not only as a request for a meeting with the Secretary of State, but as a suggestion for a topical debate next Thursday.
May we have a debate on food labelling? Has the Leader of the House seen the latest report from the Consumers Association, which reveals that a number of sandwiches that are on sale to the public labelled as “healthy” actually contain more salt than nine packets of crisps, and are awash with saturated fat? Should not our law require that salty, fatty rubbish be labelled as such?
I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend understands the shock, anger, grief and disbelief of parents, and indeed the whole community of Plymouth, on learning of the arrest earlier this week of a nursery worker and the charges today. The police and social services are clearly offering support, but will she advise me and keep me informed of any appropriate opportunities to raise the issues that will inevitably flow from the concerns of the parents and the community?
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on family courts, because she will be aware of growing concern about their operation? The judiciary and social services appear to decide the future of children—in some cases, the children have been kidnapped from their natural parents—and there is no opportunity for the parents or the media to cover these particular events. Is it not time that there was justice and fairness for natural parents? Children should not be dealt with in court, behind closed doors and in secret, where only the social services and judiciary have any say and they cannot be held to account.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the family courts are incredibly important. They do decide children’s future and make life-changing decisions in respect of parents, especially when they order children to go for adoption or be placed in care. It is because of the importance of their work and of all those who work in them that we have introduced a measure of openness into the family courts. Although we must ensure the anonymity and privacy of children whose detailed family circumstances are being discussed in the courts, it is also important that there should be public confidence that people can see the evidence on which the courts are making those decisions. In the past week or so we have introduced openness in the family courts, so that people can see that the courts are doing their work fairly and that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done.
If I could say to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy)—
Order. I have made a ruling on this matter. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) is making an argument at the side of the Chair, but let us not take that matter any further. It is not helpful when hon. Members come to the Chair to put the case to me that the Leader of House had something to reply on the matter. [Interruption.] Order. I am not privy to what the Leader of the House might say, and I must decide what is taken on the Floor of the House and try to make sure that things are properly done.
May I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House early-day motion 581, in my name and that of 242 other hon. Members on the question of a proper requirement for food labelling, especially regarding chicken?
[That this House believes that all chicken meat, including imported chicken meat, should be labelled as to farming method and preferably stocking density; further believes the labelling regulation that requires packs of shell eggs to be labelled as to production method should be extended to chicken meat; congratulates Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Compassion in World Farming on their Chicken Out! campaign calling on supermarkets to introduce labelling as to farming method to allow consumers to make informed choices; notes that most UK chickens are still reared intensively in overcrowded conditions and have been bred to grow so quickly that many suffer from lameness and heart problems; and calls on the Government to make it a requirement for all chicken producers to meet the conditions of the RSPCA’s Freedom Food scheme.]
When her ministerial colleagues come to the House next Thursday for the debate on food, farming and the environment, will she ask them to introduce proposals to make it a requirement on chicken producers to follow the freedom food scheme promoted by the RSPCA to provide proper transparency and an understanding of what people are actually eating when they eat chicken products?
As I said to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), there is a debate on food, farming and environment next Thursday. The questions of food labelling, nutritional standards, school meals and healthy diets should perhaps be the subject of a topical debate.
May I urge on my right hon. and learned Friend the argument for a debate on public spending because it is in the interest of the whole country to know where cuts would fall. People in the public sector want to know whether those 10 per cent. of cuts would impact on their jobs, and on education and many other areas. Even people working in private firms dependent on Government contracts need to know how they would be affected. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) mentioned the steel industry, and that too would be hit by a 10 per cent. cut in public spending. It is important that we tease out where the Opposition parties—not just the Conservative party—stand on public spending, because it will affect people’s lives.
I will take that as a suggestion for a topical debate. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said that we needed a further debate next week on the economy, and we do have the opportunity of a topical debate. Perhaps we could have a topical debate on the impact on the economy and on public services of future investment in public spending.
We are clear that every penny of public money invested must be properly spent; that we have to bring the public finances back into balance over the medium and longer term; and that the taxes that should go up should be those on the highest earners. We are determined to protect capital investment in policing, education, health and transport. A 10 per cent. cut in public investment would cause serious concern for those services and all those who work in them. I will look to make that the subject of a topical debate next Thursday, so that the Opposition will have plenty of time to explain to those who depend on the public services how they will withstand 10 per cent. cuts.
In the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday on constitutional renewal, he said that the Government
“will work with a special parliamentary commission comprising Members from all sides of this House, convened for a defined period to advise on necessary reforms”.—[Official Report, 10 June 2009; Vol. 493, c. 797.]
I welcome that statement. Can the Leader of the House now fill in the details? Who will sit on this new commission, what form will it take and when will it be set up? Is not the need for this commission the final nail in the coffin of the Modernisation Committee?
I realise now that I failed to respond to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on the time frame for the announcements that were made by the Prime Minister yesterday. There will be the opportunity for me to bring before the House a resolution that will establish the Committee of the House, made up of—I hope—senior Members who have put a lot of time and effort into these issues, as the right hon. Gentleman has done, so that we can look at many of the proposals that have come, not just from the Modernisation Committee, but from the Procedure Committee and ad hoc groups such as Parliament First. Then we can see whether we can complete this work within a limited time frame, preferably before the House rises for summer. After all, most of these proposals have been knocking around for some time.
Members of the House need to get together and say what we need to do now to ensure that the House can work more effectively, especially in relation to the choosing and timetabling of non-Government business, especially on e-petitions and on strengthening the integrity and work of Select Committees. We should not hang around: we should make some decisions. It is right that that is not led by the Government, but by a Committee of the House. To facilitate that, I will bring a resolution to the House to set that Committee up.
I cannot tell the House at this stage how many members the Committee will have or who they will be, because we will have to have discussions on that. However, if hon. Members would like to put themselves forward to be considered for the Committee, they can let me know.
As for the timeliness of the measures to restore public confidence, the House will know that shortly we will have complete transparency on all the claims made by hon. Members and the allowances paid over the last four years. The House authorities will put those on the website very shortly. That transparency will be reassuring to the public.
The House will also know, from the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday, that there will be legislation on a new parliamentary standards authority. The Justice Secretary and I held talks with the leaders of all the other parties yesterday. I hope that we can have the necessary legislation before the House—and conclude all stages—before the House rises for the summer. The public want complete transparency. They also want to see that we are no longer deciding the rules for our allowances and administering them. They want that to be done independently, and that is something on which all the party leaders agree. It is not technical and complicated, so we should just get on and do it.
The third element of restoring public confidence concerns those occasions on which Members were paid allowances to which they were not entitled and that did not comply with the rules as they were at the time, which might have been the result of a mistake, not wrongdoing. Whatever the reason, those overpayments need to be paid back. The reassessment process will apply to all Members, not just those of a particular party. All claims for the past four years will be considered. The public can then be sure of complete transparency. All the claims will be on the website and there will be a new independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to administer all claims, and money that needs to be paid back will be paid back. We can also improve the way in which this House does business, and in that way we will ensure that the public have the confidence that they are entitled to have in this House of Commons.
Would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that some of the constitutional issues trailed yesterday by the Prime Minister are so fundamentally important that they should be fully debated in this Chamber? As Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, I single out the proposed change to voting age. It is fashionable to think that reducing the voting age to 16 is a brave, new approach, but the implications of becoming an adult at 16, and losing all the protections of “Every Child Matters” and the five outcomes, are very serious. We must not imperil children and truncate childhood without serious deliberation.
The argument about the age at which people are entitled to vote is worth having. No one could get the impression from the statement that the Prime Minister made yesterday that a snap decision would be made on that. I have indicated those aspects of the statement on which we want prompt and expedited action, but the Prime Minister also mentioned areas in which further debate is necessary. I know that people have strongly held views on different sides of the argument about voting at 16. I think that there is a strong case for very good citizenship education in schools, and as soon as that is finished, people could come out of the classroom into the polling station. There is an argument for votes at 16. I appreciate that some people do not think so, but no one can seriously argue that giving young people the right to vote at 16 is equivalent to child abuse. We need a sensible debate.
Further to the question by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and in the light of the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday on constitutional renewal, may we please have a debate next week in Government time on the Floor of the House on pre-legislative scrutiny? Given that there is widespread agreement across the parties about the benefits of such scrutiny, but that in the Session 2007-08 only nine of 31 Government Bills were published in draft, would not such a debate allow the Government the opportunity to state whether they agree that in future, pre-legislative scrutiny in the name of better Bills should become the norm rather than the exception?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. We need more scrutiny in advance. The publication of the draft legislative programme is an attempt to ensure that the public can be more involved in the likely legislative process. We need more Bills to be published in draft, but if the time scale is urgent we also need to retain some flexibility for the Government. The ability to publish clauses in draft also exists.
I agree with the sentiment that the hon. Gentleman has expressed, although I am not quite sure where his suggestion would come in the process, but I will reflect on that point.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for organising a general debate on European affairs. Will she arrange for the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), who has been working very hard in the European Councils to try to get an amendment on the extension of copyright for recording artists, to be at that debate? Is she aware that a meeting of COREPER takes place today and that the Czech presidency is abusing its position as president to keep the British proposal to extend copyright to 70 years off the agenda? The Czech presidency is trying to keep it off the agenda for the Council meeting at which the matter should be decided before its presidency ends.
The work of the British Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills must be commended for getting the issue on to the agenda and on getting it the support of Parliament. Surely we cannot allow subterfuge by the Czech presidency to prevent this matter, which has a majority in Council, from going to Council.
May we have a debate on the effectiveness and accountability of regional development agencies? The Government say that RDAs are key to promoting economic recovery, but this week, the South West of England Regional Development Agency announced tens of millions of pounds-worth of cuts in funding, which means that projects such as dredging the docks in Falmouth, which will safeguard existing jobs and create new jobs, will now not go ahead. Does that not make a mockery of the scrutiny process, as the Regional Select Committee will, at best, get to take a look at the decision after it has already happened?
The Regional Select Committees, in particular—and the Regional Grand Committees, when they start their work—will be able to hold the chief executives of RDAs to account for their plans. They will be able to require them to set out their plans and will scrutinise them, especially if the agencies do not stick to those plans or deviate from them in a way that damages the local economy. I do not know whether the hon. Lady plays a part in the Regional Select Committee, but hon. Members should not complain about the democratic deficit in terms of the RDAs unless they are prepared to participate in the Select Committees that have been established precisely to hold them to account.
I have been making complaints on behalf of my constituents for some time about the poor performance of rail services on the section between Milton Keynes and Euston. Those services have been improving but last week there were a series of failures that were the responsibility of Network Rail involving speed restrictions, points failures, loss of signalling and a complete signalling failure, which caused major disruptions. May we have a debate about Network Rail’s stewardship of the west coast main line track and its inability to allow the train operators to deliver reliable services for my constituents?
I know that this issue affects a number of Members. Indeed, it was raised in last week’s business questions. I think it would be a useful subject for a Westminster Hall debate and I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done on behalf of her constituents in Milton Keynes, because railway services are an important issue for her constituents.
At its conference yesterday, the NHS Confederation indicated that it believes that, after 2011, the NHS will face the most sustained and severe fall in funding in its history. Given that that is an important ingredient in the requests that have been made for a debate on public expenditure, will the Leader of the House temper her enthusiasm for granting that debate for a moment until the National Audit Office has had a chance to publish an independent report that illustrates what public expenditure actually means—Department by Department—in years two and three of the current public expenditure round? It is clear from what the NHS Confederation says that that is when the Government cuts will bite.
Obviously, we consider any reports from the NAO and listen to what is said by the NHS Confederation, but nobody could doubt the Government’s commitment to the national health service since 1997. We have made a massive investment in hospitals, clinics and in the training of doctors, dentists and nurses, and have given a massive commitment to health services across the board, none of which would have happened had the Conservatives remained in power. If public spending is slashed, the people who will suffer will be those who cannot afford to go private. We will protect public services.
May I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that when we have the debate on public expenditure, we should examine the Tory 10 per cent. cuts, but it is also important that we should have a balanced debate? Does she agree that we should consider the impact of the Government’s public expenditure of the past 12 years on constituencies such as mine, which have seen massive investments of capital expenditure on schools, health care facilities, children’s centres, nurseries and sports facilities, with a new running track and a massive refurbishment of the library and learning centre in my constituency. Should we not consider the impact on our constituencies of the Government’s public expenditure?
I will take my hon. Friend’s contribution to mean that he adds his weight to the suggestion that we have a debate on the economy, and, in particular, on the effect of capital spending. The important point is that capital spending is not just about jobs, such as those in the construction industry—when the private sector construction has been hard hit, it would be disastrous to cut investment in public capital, which provides jobs—but we also need to continue to invest in education, transport and policing. I shall take his proposals as a suggestion for a topical debate next week.
The Constitutional Renewal Bill was published in draft almost two years ago. It has been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny and over the past year I have asked questions about this on numerous occasions. Ministers have come to the Dispatch Box 12 times and given a reassurance that the Bill would be published soon or imminently. We have been given that answer 12 times in the past year. The Prime Minister came to the Dispatch Box again yesterday and told us of his apparent commitment to constitutional renewal, but that will appear to be just another empty promise unless the Leader of the House can give us a firm date for the publication of the Constitutional Renewal Bill and its debate in the House.
Hon. Members will know from the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday that certain additional measures on the constitution will be considered apart from those contained in the Constitutional Renewal Bill, which was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of this House and of the House of Lords. The measures in the Bill will be considered, but they will be accompanied by additional measures, the first of which being the subject of the all-party talks that began yesterday—the setting up of a Parliamentary Standards Authority.
Order. I have been in the Chair for only a few minutes, but I have a sense of long questions and answers. If I am to try and get every hon. Member in, I should like to request short, single questions, and, I hope, concise answers. I call Dr. Brian Iddon.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At my advice surgery last Saturday, I received two complaints about the behaviour of private parking companies. The more outrageous involved a woman who took a party of children to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in my constituency only to find, when she came out, that a hefty fine had been placed under her windscreen wipers. Similar things are happening across the land, and KFC is particularly prone to complaint. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) had an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on the matter last week, so please may we have a topical debate so that all hon. Members can bring the complaints to the Floor of the House? In that way, perhaps we can persuade the companies to behave more decently.
May I gently put it to the Leader of the House that her excellent critique of the British National party was rather spoiled by the suggestion that the official Opposition opposed the Equality Bill? She knows full well that we put down a reasoned amendment and that, when it failed, we supported giving the Bill a Second Reading. Looking at the business for the next two weeks, may I assure her that she need not be worried about the Postal Services Bill not getting through on Second Reading? It has the full support of those on the Opposition Benches.
I do not see how the Opposition can say that they are in favour of the Equality Bill, given that they did not vote for giving it a Second Reading in this House. They voted against it, and proposed an amendment that used the words
“declines to give the Bill a Second Reading”.
In any language, that means that the Opposition were against it, but I believe that there is more agreement in this House about equality than meets the eye. I do not want the Equality Bill to be one of the big dividing lines between Government and Opposition. I would appreciate it if the Opposition would support it, even though they wanted to decline to give it a Second Reading.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have a ministerial statement on the future of the Forensic Science Service? Restructuring proposals would lead to a third or more of its staff losing their jobs. As we know, the FSS provides a comprehensive, integrated and world-class service in 120,000 cases a year, from crime scene to courtroom. We really must try to protect that skill base, if at all possible.
I am not only in favour of the Equality Bill, I am in favour of giving it proper scrutiny, including at Report stage in this House. The Leader of the House will know that I welcome the moves by the Prime Minister to reach all-party agreement on how we can programme that scrutiny better. In the meantime, however, will she accept that she is in charge of the Bill and that, when it comes out of the Public Bill Committee and returns to the Floor of the House, it is up to her to ensure that there is enough time to give all the groups of amendments proper scrutiny? I hope that she will give an assurance that there will be proper consultation and enough time to ensure that all those aspects are covered.
I certainly want that to be the case. We want to listen to all sides of the House and to have proper scrutiny of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman has been entirely consistent in his concern to ensure that amendments brought forward after Committee stage are scrutinised on the Floor of the House. That is really important, and I hope that the Committee under the chairmanship of the Chair of the Public Administration Committee will be able to look into that, as well as the other matters that it has been asked to consider.
May we have an urgent debate on industrial relations in London Underground? It appears that, before the dispute started at 6 pm two nights ago, the union signed an agreement that would have meant the suspension of the strike. Yet, 35 minutes later, members of the management told the union that they had made a phone call and could no longer abide by the agreement that had just been signed. We need a debate to establish exactly who that phone call was made to, as there is a real suspicion that the fingerprints of the Mayor of London are all over the provocation of the dispute. If the Mayor interfered and caused the suspension of the strike to be lifted, I think hon. Members ought to be made aware of that.
We want the Mayor of London to play his part in bringing all sides together to make sure that the backbone of London’s transport network is working properly for Londoners. We need a proper public transport system, not megaphone diplomacy or soundbites from any side.
I know that I must try to keep my answers as brief as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, to clear up any possible misunderstanding, I think that the fact of the matter is that George Alagiah was not born in England.
Next week, Government and Opposition peers will have a free vote on a clause inserted by this House into the Political Parties and Elections Bill that gives candidates in general elections the option of having their full home address on ballot papers—which is what happens at present—or to have their constituency address there instead. True to form, however, the Liberal Democrats in the upper House are imposing a three-line Whip against the clause. They say that they are doing so on the grounds that they want this House to have a better opportunity to debate the matter. If the clause comes back to this House, will the Government guarantee that we will have time to debate it and vote on it again, if necessary?
The Leader of the House will share my concern and disappointment that flying the flags of the British overseas territories and the Crown dependencies at the trooping the colour ceremony has once again been ignored. I refer her to early-day motion 1644:
[That this House looks forward to the 2009 Trooping the Colour ceremony on Saturday 13 June to mark the Official Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; notes with pride that the flags of all the nations of the Commonwealth are always displayed in and around Horse Guards Parade for this great occasion; and calls on the Government to ensure that the flags of all Her Majesty's Territories are also flown in time for the ceremony, including Her Majesty's Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man. Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, together with Her Majesty's Overseas Territories of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Ocno Islands, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cuhna, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.]
Will she ensure that the Minister responsible for this great British occasion makes sure that the flags are flown and that we respect all our British territories, as well as countries in the Commonwealth?
I was very pleased that the Child Poverty Bill received its First Reading today. Will the Leader of the House say when Second Reading will be, and can she assure me that we will not read anything about the Bill in the papers before Members have had a chance to pick it up from the Vote Office tomorrow?
There has been extensive consultation and discussion already about the Bill to tackle child poverty, as well as statements about its contents. There is a distinction between statements and Bills. If a Secretary of State or a Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to make a statement, Members of the House do not expect to hear the contents of that statement on the radio or television beforehand, with TV and radio interviewers being the first to ask questions. When there is a statement, the first people to ask questions must be Members of this House, but the publication of Bills and consultation papers is a different issue.
May we have an urgent debate on immigration and political correctness? I represent an area where a British National party MEP was elected, and I suggest that people voted for that party not because they endorse its nasty breed of politics but because they are frustrated that the mainstream political parties do not appear to be addressing their legitimate concerns. The way to take on the BNP is not to hire a rent-a-mob to throw eggs at its members and jostle them when they make public statements, but to address the issues that are leading so many people to vote for the party out of frustration, even though that is misguided.
Throughout history and across Europe, people’s fears about their jobs and their standard of living has always provided an opportunity for far-right parties to stir up apprehension. That is why we are so determined to step in. We will not just say that the recession should take its course, or that unemployment is a price worth paying, and we do not accept that people who lose their jobs will lose their house. Instead, we will provide real help for people in tough times and make sure that we take every action that we can to tackle the problems of the global economic crisis. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there is no place in British national life or in our democracy for a party that excludes people because of the colour of their skin.
Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is closing a hospital outpatients facility in my constituency and moving it to a small town in another constituency. The matter will come before the local planning committee. The chief executive of the trust has said that unless the planning committee approves the proposal, it is likely that the whole scheme will be dropped. May we have a debate on the accountability of the chief executives of NHS foundation trusts who clearly try to blackmail a planning committee?
May we have a debate on the future of the distribution industry? Cities such as Milton Keynes are, because of their geographical location, traditionally the home of many such companies. Unfortunately, as a result of rising fuel and vehicle duty, many of those companies are struggling. For example, this week, TK Maxx in Milton Keynes closed its distribution centre, with the loss of 275 jobs, and moved it to Poland. What does it say about the policies of this Government when companies feel that they have to move their businesses to Poland, rather than stay in Milton Keynes?
One of the most important tasks of the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is to make sure that we get the right climate to enable businesses of all sizes—large, medium and small—to survive, make it through the downturn, and flourish in this country, and to have a more prosperous future.